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Older Africana Cookery Books

I have a secret addiction - cookery books. I must confess here and now that I don't actually READ them, page after page, but rather prefer to handle them lovingly, to flip through the pages (often stained with spatters of grease and droplets of food) picking up a word here and there.

Once my attention has been captivated, I dwell lovingly on a whole recipe, combine the ingredients in my mind, savour the aroma, imagine the taste, sigh contentedly and pass on to the next culinary delight. It is rare that I cook a recipe exactly as it appears in a book. Since I am perforce a bachelor, my shopping is not terrible methodical, and too often I find that I haven't got one or the other ingredient called for - so something else will have to do; at times a dish ends up being something completely different from what had originally been intended - occasionally resulting in a serendipitous combination that is consigned to the 'Repertoire de Moi'.

South Africans are spoilt for choice. We are placed at the crossroads of the greatest culinary migrations of mankind; our population has been swelled by cooks from all over the world. The foodstuffs that are available consist of indigenous crops, classical European staples, exotic Middle and Far Eastern spices and fruits, as well as the cornucopia of the New World. What more could one want? From 1890 onwards, a steady stream of cookery books became available, from the simplest primer for the newly-wed to a book featuring fancy restaurant dishes. Aunt Allie Hewitt's ground-breaking book, 'Cape Cookery - Simple but Distinctive' (Darter Bros, 1890, & D Philip, 1973) claims to have the distinction of being the first in line, though I would ascribe that honour to A R Barnes' 'Colonial Household Guide' (1st ed Darter Bros 1889)which predated the former by a scant year. No matter; Allie's book is delightfully introduced by her grand-nephew, Robert Ellis, and he paints a loving picture of the little, fierce old lady slaving away over her hearth. While the fish recipes (mostly of the boiled variety) don't exactly stimulate the gastric juices, when it comes to the meat dishes, she comes up trumps with (now) exotic foods like korhaan, porcupine or beef muisjes. Her bredies, 'bobotees' and 'sassatees', mutton hams are sure to be of interest to those who wish to taste the early Malay influences on Cape cooking. The choice of vegetable dishes is slim, it seemed to have been a case of 'rice & potatoes' with the odd stewed-to-death veg melange added on Sundays and feast days. However, when it comes to sweet dishes, she really shines. 'Macaroons for a regiment' starts with 500 almonds - you can imagine the rest. There are Most Bolletjies, Matabele and Boer's Birthday Cake and a wealth of konfyts, chutneys and the like. Altogether a worthy book for any serious collector of the genre.

The latter book mentioned above by A.R.B (Mrs Barnes), who refers to herself as a 'housewife of the Colony', contains a wealth of information for even the most inexperienced cook. Starting off with good Olde England standard fare of the times, such as a cuppa tea, a boiled egg, potato chips and bubble & squeak, she swiftly progresses to more ambitious projects such as kidneys and ham, stewed oxtail and even exotic stuff such as Scotch Haggis. Obviously Mrs B. was raised in the school that thought Brit was best, especially when it came to cooking. She does, however daringly branch out a bit with some local fare, such as 'cabbage brede', 'wild buck to roast', 'baba' (barbel fish, which she claims is similar to eel, and I concur heartily), but almost all the dishes contain only the main ingredient, fat, water and salt - possibly a dash of pepper. Her vegetarian side dishes are several pages of European veg, invariably followed by the word - 'boiled'. Where she does open a window into the past is with her pastry and bread recipes. Again she starts with basics - the construction of an outside oven, the firing of it and temperatures needed to achieve optimum results. A number of yeast, sourdough and unleavened breadrecipes follow.

There is a wealth of recipes of Victorian sweets, from puddings to tarts, buns to cakes, biscuits to compotes and jellies. In this subject she is most diverse, rounding off her list of delights with some fine pickles and preserves. From creation to destruction. The reader can pick up handy tips on the extermination of all manner of creepy crawlies and fungi, as well as the eradication of spots, stains and rust-marks, after which she gives a beginner's class in how to 'Cowdung Wash' your kitchen floor for that aromatic antiseptic look. Mrs Barnes would instruct the newcomer to the colonial kitchen in such arts as 'drenching horses through the nose, without killing them' or more robust pastimes such as 'killing tigers', and occasionally she comes up with bizarre abilities, such as how to make ice using hot water and refined nitre (??).Many pages are devoted to the ills that would have inflicted the colonists, and especially their children, and there are a goodly number of simple remedies to aid the reader. While the book has only a curiosity value as far as most recipes go, the whole gamut of tasks that are taken for granted in the late 19th century kitchen are a true eye-opener, and I can heartily recommend the good lady's work to all enquiring minds as well as those who enjoy a good laugh.

The next culinary writer whose work appeared in print, Hildagonda Duckitt, wrote two books that have remained classics for more than a hundred years. Her first, 'Hilda's Where is it of Recipes' ( Chapman & Hall, 1891), was the result of collecting recipes, both local and English, in ingredients and flavours, from among the extended circle of acquaintances which frequented her social circle. Her cooking skill, simple descriptions and mouth-watering results must have gladdened many a family's table at the Cape. Her second book 'Diary of a Cape Housekeeper' ( Chapman & Hall, 1902) is a much more personal document, which allows us a peek into the Cape Kitchen at the end of the 19th century, as well as sketching life on the family farms at Constantia and Grootte Post, between Mamre and Darling.

Hilda divides her culinary year into seasons, and recommends fitting dishes to suit both availability and climate and she does not shy away from advising you to wear your winter flannel underwear in July, while March is described as 'often very hot and trying' - and so it would be if you are slaving over a huge cast-iron stove in a farmhouse kitchen.

Nor does she disappoint when it comes to a few hints on invalid care - in fact she recommends that every woman who expects to live in some out and beyond place, should 'spend a few months previously in nursing training, so as not to be entirely ignorant of the elements of what good nursing means!' She obviously had a tender heart for the beasties too, since she has included a chapter on 'to spare animals unnecessary pain', ie how to kill anything from a crayfish to a calf. In this book she has become more chatty and for anyone interested in the art, it is a pretty good read, even if only taken in small doses at bedtime. For those interested in Hilda's background, Mary Kuttel, one of the descendants of the Melck family, who were great friends with the Duckitt's, edited a little Balkema reprint of selections, entitled 'Hildagonda Duckitt's Book of Recipes', which is a little easier to find than the original books.

A little oddity is next. The printing firm D F du Toit and Co, in Paarl, were the publishers of the first dictionary of Afrikaans - then a language in the process of being born - when they issued the 'Patriot Woordeboek' in 1904. However, they published a recipe book a few years previously in the same language. It was entitled 'Di Suid Afrikaanse kook- koek en resepteboek, byeenversameld en geskrywe deur mejufvr E J Dijkman' (Patriotpers, 1891). The only copy I have ever seen had no title page, nor a front or back cover, the spine was missing as was the last page or two - but it still found a home with a client who was as mad about cookery books as I am. Unfortunately I can't recall much about the contents, except that the recipes tended to be good, plain burgher fare, imported from Europe in the main, but showing a few glimpses of country life and culinary arts that were transmitted back into the cities after the great era of pioneering had passed. This little volume was also reprinted a number of times in the Cape Dutch/Afrikaans language, and even in the changes of the title one can see developments in spelling that occurred during the period 1891-1922. The book also proved popular and was either translated or rewritten by the redoubtable Mrs Dijkman herself in the English language under the title 'Mrs Dijkman's Cookery and Recipe Book' (Paarl Printing, 1905).

From the relatively large numbers of cookery books that have passed through my hands since I became interested in the art, it would almost seem that Mesdames Barnes, Hewitt, Duckitt and Dijkman satisfied the market for advice in the kitchen during the last decade of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. I have only come across two new publication on the subject in the latter period - Mrs M ( P W) de Klerk's 'South African Cookery Made Easy' (Juta, 1912), and F G Oakley's 'Homestead Cookery '(Maskew Miller, 1917). The former is full of standard starchy fare, cakes, biscuits, puddings, breads - with only a hint of the exotic such as 'Mossbolletjies' or 'Boer biscuits' - until one comes to the selection of Breakfast dishes, when she surprises with offerings such at 'sasaties', 'hotom' (just plain flour porridge) 'poor man's friend' (quite an elaborate dish) and 'Turkish Dolmans'. Some of her tips on curing and smoking of meat and fish are not to be despised, while her cool drinks and liqueur recipes leave one a little puzzled, since her 'Apple Cider' contains nothing even vaguely resembling that fruit as an ingredient, nor does Boston Cream contain any of the latter part, as one would expect.. As refreshing drinks, one can imagine better solutions than Toast Water, Lemon Kale or Oatmeal Water for that hot summer's day - but then possibly our taste-buds have been altered by global warming. Mrs de Klerk also does her bit for the health of the nation, advocating such remedies as 'a bottle of gin combined with the grated peel of a black radish and a bunch of stinging nettles' for the agonies of gallstones. Hm, yes, I'd say the gin alone ought to do the trick of putting one into a stupor. She has advice if you should swallow anything from a wasp to a coin or a fish-bone - or if you need to loosen a rusty screw - Mrs de Klerk is at hand.

Ms(?) Oakley's ingredients, though, have a much more local flavour. We find Cape crayfish, kabeljau and snoek in the first few pages; Rhodesian eggs, ostrich, penguin and plover eggs just a few pages later. Here is treasure indeed among the unassuming pages. Even her vegetable dishes are full of innovation: beetroot fritters, celery cheese, curried cucumbers and vegetable curries make an appearance, while carrot and parsnip salad is another unexpected dish. Fruit salads appear among the traditional puds, and even treats such as marula jelly, 'kie apple chutney' and paw-paw seed pickle (Very woody but sharp!) among a host of interesting concoctions. She concludes her really interesting little book with two unusual items to try, namely condensed milk and melon butter, before she adds the obligatory few household hints - but one can see that her real enthusiasm is for cooking.

World War I has come and gone, and so has the good life for many people, in Europe as well as the colonies. Presumably recipes have adapted to the times - no longer would they start with the familiar Victorian or Edwardian phrase "Take five dozen eggs…." and so on; families were smaller, ingredients became more diverse. Sometime in this period, a volume appeared by a lady with the imposing name of Susanna Johanna Elizabeth (nee van Hoogenhouck) van Tulleken. I have been absolutely unable to find any record of the first editions of her 'Practical Cookery Book for South Africa', which was in its 28th edition by 1951, or of the Afrikaans edition entitled 'Praktiese Kookboek vir Suid Afrika' of which I have a copy, sans title page, but with a foreword by Isie Smuts dated 1922, in which she applauds the first appearance of the book in that language.

Generals. Louis Botha, Hertzog and Smuts pastries all certify the good lady's patriotism, but the local flavours only really start among the seafood dishes, where crayfish, snoek, even unspecified 'riverfish' and a dozen recipes using oysters, which are fried, poached, braised and stewed to death.

She offers a plentiful selection of meat recipes, mostly fairly standard fare, and here I see biltong make an appearance, as well as sausage, but not a boerewors recipe in sight. Her veg dishes show some interesting variations the modern vegetarian would approve of. Among bean fritters, a dozen dishes using green mealies can be found, kale, spinach, parsnips, kohlrabi, pumpkin and aubergines are all used to varied and good effect - a good balance to the inevitable stodgy meat and starch. There is a plethora of dessert courses, - but then there is soap as a separate subject. I was astounded by the varied materials one could use, ie potatoes, prickly-pear leaves, ostrich eggs, pumpkin, resin, sour milk and even mealiemeal porridge! I can well see why this remained a firm kitchen favourite for many decades.

Another writer made her appearance during that period. The modestly entitled 'Household Science Cookery Book' (CNA, 1914) by Porterville lass, Jeanette C van Duyn, was obviously intended as a serious contender on the cookery scene. The first edition's three-hundred page content had swelled to six hundred pages only six years later in a subsequent edition, and Ms van Duyn wrote a whole slew of other learned works on preserving, canning, sweet-making and so on. Where or how Ms van Duyn metamorphosed into Mrs H M Slade, I cannot say, but 1936 saw the 6th edition of her work under a new title, 'Mrs Slade's South African Cookery Book', under which name it appeared until the late 1950's, after which the good lady had another change of name and the book became 'Mildred Slade's Cookery Book' (Timmins, 1976). In general, I would say that van Duyn/Slade's work is clinical, focussing on correct preparation, classic dishes, with very little 'homey' flavour, though I did find a Boerewors , Pierneef biscuits and the odd interesting combination like beet and pea salad. A worthy teacher of the culinary arts she may be, but her tomes, to my taste, lack the 'sizzle of the steak'.

So we come to a new chapter in the culinary arts in South Africa. I am not suggesting that there were no chefs active in the subcontinent, but rather that there was no male star on the firmament until C Louis Leipoldt wrote his 'Kos vir die Kenner' (Nasionale Pers, 1933. was only relatively recently that I actually held a copy of this precious and rare work of Africana in my hands for the first time. Leipoldt didn't try to teach you basic cooking - he assumed you knew how to do that; he wanted to teach you to appreciate, savour, capture the nuance, enhance the flavour - and try the odd ingredient you had never considered as a comestible before. In a brusque preamble the author states that as most culinary terms have Latin and French origins, he will explain these terms, and in fact he creates an entire Afrikaans vocabulary to encompass the processes of the art. Then a short injunction to warn against the substitution of substandard or lesser ingredients - and we are off into the mysteries of soup-making.

Almost immediately the recipe for 'Suringsop' and 'Wateruintjiesop' catches my eye. Not your everyday ingredient, even though the tart leaves of the Oxalis species is well-known to most of us who chewed them as children, and some of us might have even rinsed the little bulbs before we popped them into our mouths. Nor does the chef shy away from the indigenous foodstuffs, which have been a mainstay of the Khoisan people for thousands of years. Though possessing a strange smell (which should be ignored), there are half a dozen dishes containing tortoise or turtle meat, monitor lizard is deemed fine fare. Flamingo breast rubs shoulders with Frascati eggs, penguin jostles with pilaf, while the common tinned sardine can be found as a starter - or as a savoury after the main course. The man blows away any preconception you may have had about what is and what is not fitting. Who would dream of deep-frying paw-paw pieces in batter ? Would any cook believe that mustard, sugar, vinegar, ginger, nutmeg or tomato sauce were fit accompaniments for a piece of avocado? Almost every other page delivers a culinary knock-out blow.

Leipoldt's knowledge of local fish and the dishes one could conjure up from them, must have been enormous. From the now almost unknown Dageraad, 'Bottervis', 'Kliptong' and Maasbankers, the author urges us to try even such bony offerings such as Yellowfish from the rivers, or in contrast, a sumptuous, steamed crayfish pudding. His treatment of octopus and perlemoen is much gentler than I have read elsewhere, as he speaks of 'tapping it gently with a wooden hammer until tender', before simmering it gently for an hour over a slow fire. Neither the garden snail nor its relative the alicrock are ignored, and mussels are prized along with raw oysters. A few wise words on wine and its indispensability on every table and in every kitchen follow among a number of other drinks recipes - not least among which is one for 'Wine and Milk' which are boiled together, after which it is left to cool, the clear liquid on top is poured off, and the remainder is drunk (??) For all South Africans who are able to read Afrikaans, and who are curious and adventurous in the matter of food and its preparation, I can really recommend this as a book which can be browsed through for years.There are still many more worthy writers' works to be discussed. So we shall have to make another date for a further amble through the kitchen bookshelf.

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